Content in national interest: What new TV broadcast guidelines say

Starting Wednesday, satellite TV channels in India are required to broadcast at least 30 minutes of content daily on “themes of national importance and of social relevance”. This is part of the ‘Guidelines for Uplinking and Downlinking of Satellite Television Channels in India, 2022’, which were approved by the Union Cabinet on September 28, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said in an order on Wednesday.

“The new guidelines have been amended after a gap of 11 years, and a number of steps have been taken for ease of doing business, as there are more than 870 channels operating in the country now. Based on our experience, these guidelines have been amended,” the Ministry said in a statement.

What is the requirement for public service broadcasting?

It is obligatory under the guidelines for all TV channels, including private channels, to “undertake public service broadcasting for a minimum period of 30 minutes in a day on themes of national importance and of social relevance”.

While the guidelines are already in force, Ministry officials said the channels will be given some time to conceptualise and create such content. The Ministry will soon issue a specific advisory on the date it comes into effect, and on the time slots for the telecast of this content, the officials said.

What is the rationale behind this?

The government has argued that since “airwaves/ frequencies are public property” they “need to be used in the best interest of the society”. Representatives of several broadcasters, speaking on condition of anonymity, however, pointed out that while airwaves may be public property, they had paid hefty fees for their use — any binding guidelines that adversely impact their commercial interests may not, therefore, be fair.

What is the definition of national interest for this purpose?

The guidelines have identified eight “themes of national importance and of social relevance”: “education and spread of literacy; agriculture and rural development; health and family welfare; science and technology; welfare of women; welfare of the weaker sections of the society; protection of environment and of cultural heritage; and national integration”.

How will compliance be ensured?

Once the guidelines are implemented, the Ministry will monitor the channels for the broadcast of this content. In case non-compliance is observed in the Ministry’s view, an explanation will be sought. If a channel continues to be non-compliant, more steps can be taken based on specific advisories that will be issued from time to time, and on a case-to-case basis.

“The Central Government may, from time to time, issue general advisory to the channels for telecast of content in national interest, and the channel shall comply with the same,” the guidelines say.

Is anyone exempt from this obligation?

The condition applies to all channels, except those specifically exempted. “The channels may…appropriately modulate their content to fulfil the obligation…except where it may not be feasible, such as in the case of sports channels, etc,” the guidelines say.

Officials said the exemption may also apply to wildlife channels and foreign channels, besides live telecasts in the case of sports channels.

What else do the guidelines say?

The guidelines span a range of subjects including uplinking and downlinking, hiring and purchase of broadcast equipment, changes in name and logo, etc.

The policy mandates that channels uplinking in frequency bands other than C-band must encrypt their signals. Uplinking and downlinking “shall be subject to clearance and approval by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and wherever considered necessary, of other authorities”.

The new guidelines allow a news agency to get permission for five years instead of the current one year. The penalty clauses have been rationalised, and separate sets of penalties have been proposed for different types of contraventions as against the uniform penalty that is applicable currently.

The new policy eases compliance for TV channels in various areas. Broadcast companies will be allowed to uplink foreign channels from Indian teleports, which would create employment opportunities and make India a teleport hub for other countries, officials said. Singapore is considered the hub of teleport uplinking, but after the new guidelines come into effect, foreign channels are expected to show greater interest in using Indian teleports, the officials said.

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